Friday, February 22, 2013

Serving up a Blue Plate Special

Just in time for the weekend, you can now find a blue plate special at several fine dining restaurants throughout the Boston area. But wait, it's not what you think. It's the Aquarium's version of a Blue Plate Special with delicious and ocean-friendly seafood dishes that are selected with our blue planet in mind!

The Aquarium and seven top Boston area restaurants are taking part in a six-week Blue Plate Special program to help diners learn about the plentiful and delicious choices available on menus that are ocean-friendly. Choosing ocean-friendly seafood means we will have plenty of tasty seafood choices for years to come by choosing ocean-friendly seafood today. That's because some types of seafood are much more environmentally friendly than others.

The program, which begins today, is in conjunction with some of the Boston area’s best restaurants, including: Blue Ginger in Wellesley, EVOO in Cambridge, Turner Fisheries Restaurant in Boston, Lumiere in Newton, Area Four in Cambridge, Taranta Restaurant in Boston, and City Landing in Boston.

Diners will learn about the Aquarium’s conservation work and how ocean-friendly seafood options can help protect the ocean and its resources. The Blue Plate Special program will also create ocean advocates and promote responsible restaurants all at the same time.

The program is already making news. So if you're looking to get out on the town this weekend and want to make a thoughtful choice about your meal, check out these local restaurants and their Blue Plate Specials!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Media Release: Super Slow Motion Video Reveals Amazing Cuttlefish Behavior


Color-changing cuttlefish are the cool cousins to squid and octopus and among the favorites of Aquarium visitors, but new, super-slow motion video shot at the New England Aquarium  reveals a spectacular hunting technique that resembles a scene straight out of an alien invasion thriller.

This jaw-dropping, split second footage is the product of the Aquarium’s unique collaboration with an accomplished underwater photographer, an MIT physicist and a Boston area tech company. The slow motion footage, shot at 500 frames per second versus the normal 30 frames for video, shows how these cunning cephalopods capture their food, with two retractable tentacles snagging a fish and pulling it into the grasp of eight waiting suction cupped arms.

Video credit: Keith A. Ellenbogen, Allan Adams, Tech Imaging Services, Inc.

The shoot was a collaboration between the Aquarium, underwater photographer/videographer Keith Ellenbogen, MIT Assistant Professor of Physics Allan Adams and Jason O'Connell, Vice President at Tech Imaging Services, Inc. out of Salem, Mass.

Allan and Ellenbogen during filming at the Aquarium

"It's a proof of concept that we can record complex behavior underwater, at high-speed, and in extraordinary resolution," said Adams. "Now that we know it works we're hoping to do more."

High speed cameras are not typically fitted with underwater housing, and even when they are it can be difficult to find an area in with enough light to capture super-slow motion footage of marine animals. The team sidestepped that problem by filming at the Aquarium, where cuttlefish and other animals are easily accessible to visitors and cameras.

Cuttlefish can change colors to hide from predators.

They spent the day mingling with visitors as they set up their equipment outside the Aquarium's exhibits while several animals were fed. The cuttlefish was one of the species that provided some of the most spectacular results.

"High speed photography can showcase exotic undersea life from a new visual perspectives," said Ellenbogen. "When we got our first look at the cuttlefish feeding, everyone was blown away with the detail and subtle movements--including things we weren't seeing with the naked eye."

This footage was taken at 500 frames per second, about 17 times slower than it occurs to the naked eye. The team used a Photron FASTCAM SA5, which is capable of capturing up to 1.3 million frames per second if there is enough light. A typical video camera records at about 30 frames per second.

"I've been doing this for the last seven to eight years, and our company has been around for more than 30 years. I don't think there's footage out there anywhere like this," said Jason O'Connell, Vice President at Tech Imaging Services, Inc. out of Salem, Mass.

"In terms of the color and clarity, you would have the impression you were in a submarine underwater with the animal," O'Connell added. "It's like the experience visitors have looking at the exhibit, but slowed down so you can see the details."

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Last Reef 3D — Now Playing!

The Last Reef 3D offers an exhilarating ride alongside sharks, sea turtles and tropical fish on a cruise through the world's underwater superhighways. From Vancouver Island to Palau, coral reefs pulse with colorful ocean animals of all sizes. This exquisite IMAX film is your ticket to see their homes like never before.

Here's a taste of what awaits you at the Simons IMAX Theatre!

Experience the diversity, colors and rhythms of breathtaking reefs in vibrant 3D on the largest screen in New England. You’ll discover the natural connection we share with coral habitats and learn how together we can protect our planet's cities beneath the sea—coral reefs.

Check show times and buy your tickets online!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Member-Exclusive Event: IMAX Film Screening

On Monday, February 11, 2013, we hosted the New England premiere of The Last Reef 3D, the newest film to hit the largest screen in New England. After huddling inside all weekend during Winter Storm Nemo, over 200 people ventured out to attend this member-exclusive event.

All of the members in attendance were automatically entered into a prize drawing for an amazing one-of-a-kind piece of New England Aquarium history: a framed and mounted piece of coral which had been underwater in our centerpiece exhibit—the Giant Ocean Tank—from 1984 until it was removed at the start of construction in the fall of 2012. We chose a youngster from our audience to assist with the random drawing, and with over 100 member households in attendance, he selected his own!

Congratulations to the Haley family (above) of Hingham. Our assistant’s mom told us he has an ocean-themed bedroom, so we know the coral will fit right in with the decor.

After a minor synchronization issue that “only an IMAX projectionist would notice,” our projectionist, Jose, had members immersed in an underwater world, gliding through clouds of jellyfish and exploring the cities beneath the sea. Thanks to everyone who attended this special screening and to the Aquarium staff that helped make this a special member event.

The Last Reef 3D is now playing at the Simons IMAX Theatre. Check showtimes and buy tickets online.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

February Construction Update: Coral Construction

On Central Wharf, there is still plenty of banging, buzzing and scaffolding associated with the Giant Ocean Tank renovations. But there's also a flurry of activity off-site. For example, you'll find a regular coral production line in Peter Brady's dusty studio in Charlestown right now. Brady is responsible for most of the sculptures and habitats in Aquarium exhibits, and the huge yet intricate coral reef is his latest project. And it's quite a project!

Corals in production in the Aquarium's Charlestown studio

An assortment of corals that will appear in the Giant Ocean Tank

Peter Brady in the coral production studio.

Brady and his staff are charged with making 1500 smaller pieces of coral, like the ones below. A company in California is making another 1600 pieces. These vibrant fire, brain, lettuce and star corals (just to name a few) will blanket the reef structure in the big tank, providing a brilliant backdrop to the rays, sharks, turtles and schooling fishes and hiding spaces for hundreds of other fish.

Each of these pieces were cast from real coral. The intricate mold is then filled with colored acrylic and allowed to harden. What comes out is a life-like piece of coral that you could find on a health Caribbean coral reef!

A piece of brain coral made in Brady's studio

Rather than hand painting each coral, color pigment was mixed right into the material used in casting each coral. This will result in brighter colors in the big tank, which won't fade when divers scrub algae off its surface.

They are also fabricating large pieces of coral that will provide the form of the big reef and anchor smaller, ornamental pieces. Creating these large pieces requires sculpting the piece from foam, making a mold with fiberglass and then carving out the styrofoam (so the pieces don't float in the big tank).

As soon as the windows are installed, Brady will start assembling the corals inside the tank. Everything looks good for the window installation to begin in a couple weeks. Construction is moving along right on schedule!

February School Vacation Happenings

The Aquarium may be under construction but there are still new exhibits to explore, fascinating animals to get to know and eye-popping IMAX movies to watch! Here are some highlights to add to your February school vacation must-see list:

A newly hatched epaulette shark held in the hand of a New England Aquarium biologist

SHARK NURSERY: The New England Aquarium has the largest shark and ray touch tank on the East Coast, but where does the Aquarium get all those cool, small sharks? We breed them here in frigid Boston! Over the last two years, talented Aquarium biologists have been shark obstetrician to nearly 100 pups including coral cat sharks, epaulette sharks and guitarfish. A new exhibit showcasing the shark nursery and the Aquarium’s shark breeding program makes its debut for school vacation. See more pictures of these adorable shark babies in this post on Exhibit Galleries blog.

The chameleon –like cuttlefish hovers suspiciously ready to change color if threatened.

COLOR-CHANGING CUTTLEFISH: Ask some serious fish nerds what their favorite animal is and there is a good chance that they will mention cuttlefish, which are both freaky and very cool. Cuttlefish are the cute, chameleon-like cousins to squid and octopus. They hover in the water like a spaceship with their multiple arms and bookish eyes forming a face that is strangely engaging and even hypnotic. When they feel threatened, they change color and skin pattern in just a few seconds! The Aquarium’s cuttlefish tank currently looks like an armada of alien spacecraft as nine cuttlefish patrol the water column wary of some of their pesky neighbors.

The Last Reef 3D

NEW IMAX MOVIE - THE LAST REEF 3D: Can’t afford to fly to the Caribbean? Take a mini-tropical vacation diving on the world’s most beautiful coral reefs. Using new macro 3D technology, The Last Reef 3D will reveal a clarity and detail to life on a coral reef not seen before. The film tells the story of the challenges facing coral reefs in the 21st Century and emphasizes the resilience of these cities beneath the sea. Check show times and get your tickets online.

As you can see, this February school vacation is a fantastic time to visit. Here are some visiting tips to keep in mind that'll help make your visit go swimmingly: